“I wanted to farm. That’s what I wanted to do.” —Roric Paulman
It’s an early morning near Sutherland, Nebraska, about 5 miles as the crow flies from the South Platte River. The spring rains have let up long enough for the fields to dry out. Roric Paulman will be able to plant today, and so another season on the farm begins. Paulman Farms lies between Lake McConaughy to the west and the city of North Platte to the east. This region is known as the Platte River Valley. Roric Paulman is a third-generation Nebraska farmer. His grandfather began farming in the 1930s. “This was native sod around us here and behind us. We broke it out of sod and we planted corn, and pinto beans (A medium-sized speckled variety of kidney bean.), and wheat,” explains Roric. His grandfather began irrigating with surface water (Water that collects on the surface of the ground.) from the Platte River, using canals, dams, ditches, and siphon tubes (A basic implement used in irrigation to transfer water over a barrier using the siphon principle.). “I was the Lincoln County Tube Setting champion two years in a row when I was only 14 years old,” Roric remembers. “We set a lot of tubes and carried a lot of tubes, all the way up to the mid-70s,” when center pivots revolutionized farming on the western Great Plains.
Roric left the farm to attend college, but after a year he chose instead to work in the farm service industry for companies such as Caterpillar for about ten years. After the Farm Crisis of 1985 made it hard for his parents to run the farm on their own, Roric returned to Sutherland to help them. Six months after returning, Roric’s father died and the family lost the farm to the bank. With the help of neighbors and his father’s former business partners, Roric started over again. He was determined to earn back the land they had lost.
“I surrounded myself with a network of people who were young and bright. I hadn’t farmed,” he recalled. “But I wanted to farm. That’s what I wanted to do.” A handshake was all it took for some to give Roric the opportunity to rent their land with the promise of payment when the crops were harvested in the fall. “We trusted each other,” he remembered. “We made sure that that trust was our bond, and our word was good.” It took the Paulmans twenty-seven years to buy back all parts of the original farm. Roric remembers it took “Twenty-seven years of working and leveraging, and marketing, and making good decisions to get where I am today.” Today Roric farms 6500 acres of irrigated and rain-fed farmland (Farming practices that rely on rainfall for water.).
The farm is more than a business for most farmers, including the Paulmans. Roric and his wife, Deb, raised four children on their farm. After graduating from college in 2012, their youngest son, Zach, returned to Sutherland to help run the family farm. “We currently have our son, who will be fourth generation,” says Roric. Generations of Paulmans have worked this land, but each generation must learn new methods of farming to remain competitive. Though it’s the same land, Roric’s farm is greatly different from his father’s and his grandfather’s. “We are not doing things the same way at all,” he said. Roric is known as a “early adopter,” meaning he experiments with new agricultural technologies to increase production while conserving natural resources (Valuable materials that occur naturally in the world and have economic value.). “I’m trying to continually re-evaluate my tool box and add to it.” The bottom line is important to Roric and his farming business, but he balances economic growth with sustainability (Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.).
Click the arrows (left - right) to view a modern farm system in action below:
In 1992, Roric started precision farming ( A farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to crops in order to preserve resources while keeping proﬁts as high as possible.). Precision farming is an agricultural management system based on information and technology that gathers site specific data points from soils, crops, nutrients, pests, disease, and moisture to help farmers make decisions that will maximize yield while promoting environmental sustainability (Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.). Roric explains that precision agriculture helps him solve a “big puzzle” that balances agriculture with conservation (Preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment, natural ecosystems, vegetation, and wildlife.) so that he can leave a legacy of clean water and healthy soils for his family and future generations.